Winter is the season when we feed the birds. You fill up all those feeders with seeds and peanuts and hang them on trees, or specially bought poles, and the birds come flocking in. At least, they do if they get a chance, because the next time you look, the feeders are on the ground with holes in them and the food is either scattered or all gone. You’ve been ‘squirrelled’! Grey squirrels are very difficult to outwit and it’s war in our house at the moment, with feeders suspended on wires, plant pots used as baffles and three Lurchers as deterrents, but still he comes. He tests everything:-
‘Is this strong enough to take my weight?’
‘Are my teeth sharp enough to bite a hole in this?’
‘This feeder would probably be more convenient on the ground.’
Peanuts, peanuts, always peanuts …
They are fat and sleek and so they should be with all that nutritious food and what they don’t eat they bury all around the garden. They have an acute sense of smell and good spatial awareness and, most of the time, they are able to locate their stash later in the season.
The Grey squirrel is native to North America and was introduced to Britain in the 1870s. The Victorians were great collectors and our museums are full of their dead things, many insects, especially butterflies, and stuffed animals and birds. The more wealthy also collected live animals from different parts of the world and Greys were probably released or escaped from one of these collections – and didn’t they do well! They are now found all over the country in a variety of habitats; woodlands, parks and gardens, anywhere that has trees and available food. They are mainly herbivorous, eating acorns, nuts, fruit, berries, fungi, buds and new shoots but when food is scarce they will eat insects, small rodents and take eggs and nestlings; they will also eat bark and cause woodland damage by ring-barking trees. This is one of their main sins, another being a pox virus, which they carry, that infects our native reds and results in death; the greys themselves have developed immunity to this. Red Squirrels are not as adaptable as the greys as far as habitat and food goes, which is another reason for their decline.
Grey squirrels build their nests, called dreys, in forks of tree branches or holes in the trunks. Made from twigs and lined in grass, moss, thistle down and feathers, they won’t win any prizes for tidiness! There will usually be two litters a year, the first in February or March and the second in June or July. There are two to six kits in each one and the young leave the nest at about ten weeks of age.
Love them or hate them? Pretty little animals or tree rats? Many people want them eradicated – I can’t imagine how this would be achieved, they are so successful – but others find them charming and amusing. They are certainly very clever and there are plenty of them, so I think they are probably here to stay.
© Sheila Sims 2014